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I Don’t Have the Best Grades and Am Not in a Top Tier Law School – Is There Hope for Me?

published July 30, 2015

By Author - LawCrossing
Published By
( 186 votes, average: 4 out of 5)
What do you think about this article? Rate it using the stars above and let us know what you think in the comments below.
Question: I am at a school that is ranked in the 26-50 category and I just learned that I did not make the top 5 percent of my class during my first semester as a 1L. Should I give up any hope of gaining a position at a large firm?
I hope this doesn't sound whiny but basically I've been through endless bad luck and personal problems which landed me in a 3rd tier law school and I don't have the best grades. Do you have any helpful advice on how I could get my foot in the door of a mid-size firm or boutique?

Answer: As frequent readers of this column know, I sometimes answer several questions in one column. Two of the questions that I received this week are very similar and so I have decided to address both of them.

No, your questions do not sound whiny. In fact, they are valid questions that might be asked by up to 95 percent of each law school class.

First of all, just because you do not receive an offer to spend your 2L summer at a major law firm does not necessarily mean that you will never work at one of these firms. Nor does it mean that you will not have an opportunity to work for major clients on big deals or large and complex litigation simply because you are at a smaller firm.
But before we discuss alternatives to major law firms or ways to get your foot in the door, let's talk about some hard realities.

Neither of you have done a particularly stellar job during your first semester at law school. What happened? Look, there is no percentage in the past so what is done is done. You need to move on at this point. But just before you put your lackluster first semester behind you, you really do need to take just a few minutes to figure out what went wrong. Are you in over your head? Are you having a difficult time understanding or keeping up with the material? Are you having a hard time making the adjustment from undergraduate to graduate school? Are you devoting enough time to your studies?

Here's the good news. It is still not too late to end up having a good first year! The initial thing you need to do is to speak with someone in the Dean's office. Let them know where and why you are having difficulties. The law school wants you to do well in so that you will go on to have a good job and be another illustrious feather in the school's proverbial alumni cap. The last thing they want is for you to not have a job when you graduate from law school.

Are you part of a study group? If not, join one. If you are already in one, reevaluate its effectiveness. You might want to consider using a tutor. Many of the 2L and 3L students are more than happy to earn some extra money by tutoring 1L's. If you can't seem to find a tutor, go to the law school career placement office, a professor or back to the Dean's office for some referrals.

Of course, not everyone can be in the top 5 or 10 or even 15% of the class. So what do you do if you are not in the upper echelons of the class but have your sights set on working for the large law firms? Well, you should still set your sights high and work on improving your standing during your second semester. Keep your goal in mind that you want to have interviews with the major law firms. Perhaps you will be able to turn things around before the interviewing rounds begin next September. You really do have some time here to change your course.

Since you are at a second tier school, many of the major law firms will be scheduling on-campus interviews, particularly the law firms that have offices in your geographical region. Concentrate on raising your GPA and you will have a very good shot at securing interviews.

If improving your class standing does not seem to be in the cards for you, there is still no reason to despair. There are many mid-size and smaller firms that will be interviewing 2Ls who are not at the top of the class but are attending 1st and 2nd tier schools. As I said above, you don't necessarily have to be working at a major law firm to be representing major clients and/or working on significant matters.

For someone at third tier school, things are not quite as rosy. At a third tier school and with a low GPA, you are going to have a difficult time getting the attention of the law firms when they are setting up their interviewing schedules. This is the harsh reality of the situation. I believe you when you tell us that you did quite well in your "previous education" but, quite frankly, that doesn't do much good for you right now. What matters is how you are doing in law school. You may have been summa cum laude in your undergraduate class, but if you are at the bottom of your law school class, that is all the firms are going to take under consideration. By the way, your law school transcript will follow you for a good deal of your career, particularly in the earlier years.

Faced with this reality, you should be looking at your options. Do not give up, because you may very well find a sympathetic ear who is willing to accept your hard-luck stories, while at the same time seeing the potential that exists in you based on your undergraduate record. So, continue to send out cover letters and continue to sign up for on-campus interviews, no matter how many rejections you might receive.

In the meantime, look for alternatives. Why not consider applying to the D.A.'s office, legal aid or some of the governmental agencies? You will find that some of these employers are not as focused on an individual's credentials as they are on the individual's desire to be a part of a hands-on practice.

I know that both of you have the opportunity to build a great practice and to be great attorneys. I am not telling you that it will be an easy road, but certainly you will be able to achieve your goals if you remember that you must focus on what you want.

I wish that I could tell you to expect lots of job offers next fall, but based on what you have told us, I certainly don't want to mislead you. However, I truly believe that you make your own destiny. Don't give up and please let us know how things are going for you!
Summary: This is a valid question that might be asked by up to 95 percent of each law school class.

published July 30, 2015

By Author - LawCrossing
( 186 votes, average: 4 out of 5)
What do you think about this article? Rate it using the stars above and let us know what you think in the comments below.